Our Treasure in Earthen Vessels
“We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the power beyond what is normal may be God’s and not that out of ourselves.”—2 Corinthians 4:7.
1. How should Jesus’ example encourage us?
WHILE being molded by Jehovah here on earth, Jesus experienced firsthand the frailties of mankind. How his example of keeping integrity should encourage us! The apostle tells us: “In fact, to this course you were called, because even Christ suffered for you, leaving you a model for you to follow his steps closely.” (1 Peter 2:21) By submitting to such molding, Jesus triumphed over the world. He also emboldened his apostles to become conquerors. (Acts 4:13, 31; 9:27, 28; 14:3; 19:8) And what grand encouragement he gave in the conclusion of his final talk to them! He declared: “I have said these things to you that by means of me you may have peace. In the world you are having tribulation, but take courage! I have conquered the world.”—John 16:33.
2. In contrast with the world’s blindness, what illumination do we have?
2 Likewise, after contrasting the blindness brought on by “the god of this system of things” with “the illumination of the glorious good news,” the apostle Paul said of our precious ministry: “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the power beyond what is normal may be God’s and not that out of ourselves. We are pressed in every way, but not cramped beyond movement; we are perplexed, but not absolutely with no way out; we are persecuted, but not left in the lurch; we are thrown down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:4, 7-9) Frail “earthen vessels” though we are, God has so molded us by his spirit that we can be completely victorious over Satan’s world.—Romans 8:35-39; 1 Corinthians 15:57.
Molding in Israel of Old
3. How did Isaiah describe the molding of the Jewish nation?
3 Jehovah molds not only individuals but entire nations. For example, when ancient Israel submitted to Jehovah’s molding, it prospered. But finally it hardened itself into a course of disobedience. As a result, Israel’s Former brought “woe” upon it. (Isaiah 45:9) In the eighth century B.C.E., Isaiah spoke to Jehovah of the gross sinfulness of Israel, saying: “O Jehovah, you are our Father. We are the clay, and you are our Potter; and all of us are the work of your hand. . . . Every one of our desirable things has become a devastation.” (Isaiah 64:8-11) Israel had been molded into a vessel fit only for destruction.
4. What illustration was acted out by Jeremiah?
4 A century later, as the day of reckoning drew near, Jehovah told Jeremiah to take an earthenware flask and accompany some of the older men of Jerusalem to the Valley of Hinnom, instructing him: “You must break the flask before the eyes of the men who are going with you. And you must say to them, ‘This is what Jehovah of armies has said: “In the same way I shall break this people and this city as someone breaks the vessel of the potter so that it is no more able to be repaired.”’”—Jeremiah 19:10, 11.
5. How extensive was Jehovah’s judgment on Israel?
5 In 607 B.C.E., Nebuchadnezzar devastated Jerusalem with its temple and carried off the surviving Jews into captivity in Babylon. But after 70 years in exile, repentant Jews were able to return to rebuild Jerusalem and its temple. (Jeremiah 25:11) However, by the first century C.E., the nation had again abandoned the Great Potter, and finally it stooped to the ultimate crime of murdering God’s own Son. In 70 C.E., God used the Roman World Power as his executioner in wiping out the Jewish system of things, pulverizing Jerusalem and its temple. Never again would the nation of Israel be molded by Jehovah’s hand as something with “holiness and beauty.”*
Molding a Spiritual Nation
6, 7. (a) How does Paul describe the molding of spiritual Israel? (b) What is the complete number of the “vessels of mercy,” and how was it made up?
6 Jews who had accepted Jesus were molded as foundation members of a new nation, the spiritual “Israel of God.” (Galatians 6:16) Appropriate, then, are Paul’s words: “What? Does not the potter have authority over the clay to make from the same lump one vessel for an honorable use, another for a dishonorable use? . . . God, although having the will to demonstrate his wrath and to make his power known, tolerated with much long-suffering vessels of wrath made fit for destruction, in order that he might make known the riches of his glory upon vessels of mercy, which he prepared beforehand for glory.”—Romans 9:21-23.
7 The resurrected Jesus later made known that these “vessels of mercy” would number 144,000. (Revelation 7:4; 14:1) Since natural Israel had not supplied that complete number, Jehovah extended his mercy to people of the nations. (Romans 11:25, 26) The fledgling Christian congregation expanded rapidly. Within 30 years the good news was being “preached in all creation that is under heaven.” (Colossians 1:23) This called for bringing numerous scattered local congregations under proper oversight.
8. Who made up the initial governing body, and how did this body develop?
8 Jesus had prepared 12 apostles to become an initial governing body, training them as well as others for the ministry. (Luke 8:1; 9:1, 2; 10:1, 2) At Pentecost 33 C.E., the Christian congregation was established, and in due course its governing body was expanded to include “the apostles and older men in Jerusalem.” Over an extended period, Jesus’ half brother James, though not an apostle, appears to have served as chairman. (Acts 12:17; 15:2, 6, 13; 21:18) According to historian Eusebius, the apostles became special targets of persecution and were scattered to other territories. The composition of the governing body was adjusted accordingly.
9. What sad development did Jesus foretell would take place?
9 Toward the end of the first century, ‘the enemy, the Devil,’ began to ‘sow weeds’ among the wheatlike heirs of “the kingdom of the heavens.” Jesus had prophesied that this sad development would be permitted until harvesttime at “the conclusion of the system of things.” Then, again, ‘the righteous ones would shine as brightly as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.’ (Matthew 13:24, 25, 37-43) When would that be?
Molding the Israel of God Today
10, 11. (a) How did the modern-day molding of the Israel of God get under way? (b) What contrasting teachings were to be found in Christendom and among the earnest Bible Students?
10 In 1870, Charles Taze Russell formed a Bible study group in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. In 1879 he began publishing monthly the magazine known today as The Watchtower. These Bible Students, as they came to be called, soon perceived that Christendom had adopted unscriptural pagan teachings, such as the immortality of the soul, hellfire, purgatory, a Trinitarian god, and infant baptism.
11 More important, though, these lovers of Bible truth restored fundamental Bible teachings, such as redemption through Jesus’ ransom sacrifice and resurrection to everlasting life in a peaceful paradise earth under God’s Kingdom. Above all, emphasis was laid on the imminent vindication of Jehovah God as Sovereign Lord of the universe. The Bible Students believed that the Lord’s Prayer was about to be answered: “Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified. Let your kingdom come. Let your will take place, as in heaven, also upon earth.” (Matthew 6:9, 10) They were being molded by God’s holy spirit into a worldwide society of peace-loving Christians.
12. How did the Bible Students come to perceive an important date?
12 An in-depth study of Daniel chapter 4 and other prophecies convinced the Bible Students that Jesus’ presence as Messianic King must be at hand. They perceived that 1914 would be the date for “the appointed times of the nations” to end. (Luke 21:24; Ezekiel 21:26, 27) The Bible Students rapidly extended their activity, forming Bible classes (later called congregations) throughout the United States. By the turn of the century, their Bible educational work was expanding into Europe and Australasia. Good organization became necessary.
13. What legal status did the Bible Students obtain, and what outstanding service was rendered by the Society’s first president?
13 To give the Bible Students legal status, Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society was incorporated in 1884 in the United States, with headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Its directors served as a central Governing Body, overseeing the global preaching of God’s Kingdom. The Society’s first president, Charles T. Russell, wrote six volumes of Studies in the Scriptures and made extensive preaching tours. He also donated to the worldwide Kingdom work the fortune he had amassed before he began his Bible studies. In 1916, as the Great War was raging in Europe, an exhausted Brother Russell died during a preaching journey. He had given his all to the expanding of the witness about God’s Kingdom.
14. How did J. F. Rutherford ‘fight the fine fight’? (2 Timothy 4:7)
14 Joseph F. Rutherford, who had temporarily been a judge in Missouri, became the next president. As a result of his fearless advocacy of Bible truth, Christendom’s clergy joined forces with politicians in “framing trouble by decree.” On June 21, 1918, Brother Rutherford and seven other leading Bible Students were jailed, with multiple concurrent sentences of 10 or 20 years. The Bible Students fought back. (Psalm 94:20; Philippians 1:7) On appeal, they were released on March 26, 1919, and were later completely exonerated of the false charge of sedition.* This experience served to mold them into stalwart advocates of truth. With Jehovah’s help, they left no stone unturned to win out in the spiritual fight to proclaim the good news despite the opposition of Babylon the Great. That fight continues right down to this year of 1999.—Compare Matthew, chapter 23; John 8:38-47.
15. Why was the year 1931 historically important?
15 During the 1920’s and 1930’s, the anointed Israel of God continued to be molded under the direction of the Great Potter. Prophetic light from the Scriptures flashed forth, giving honor to Jehovah and focusing on Jesus’ Messianic Kingdom. In 1931 the Bible Students rejoiced to accept the new name, Jehovah’s Witnesses.—Isaiah 43:10-12; Matthew 6:9, 10; 24:14.
16 and box on page 19. When was the complete number of the 144,000 filled, and what evidence is there of this?
16 In the 1930’s the number of “those called and chosen and faithful,” the 144,000, appeared to be filled. (Revelation 17:14; see box on page 19.) We do not know how many of the anointed were gathered in the first century and from among the “weeds” during the dark centuries of Christendom’s great apostasy. But in 1935 there was a worldwide total of 52,465 publishers, out of a peak of 56,153, who indicated their heavenly hope by partaking of the Memorial emblems. What would be the destiny of the many yet to be gathered?
“Look! a Great Crowd”
17. What historic development took place in 1935?
17 At a convention held from May 30 to June 3, 1935, in Washington, D.C., U.S.A., Brother Rutherford gave a landmark talk entitled “The Great Multitude.”* This group, “which no man was able to number,” would appear as the sealing of the 144,000 of spiritual Israel drew to an end. These too would exercise faith in the ransoming power of “the blood of the Lamb,” Jesus, and render sacred service in Jehovah’s temple arrangement for worship. As a group, they would “come out of the great tribulation” alive, to inherit the earthly Paradise where “death will be no more.” For several years prior to that convention, this group had been spoken of as the Jonadabs.—Revelation 7:9-17; 21:4; Jeremiah 35:10.
18. In what ways was the year 1938 crucial?
18 The year 1938 was crucial in clearly identifying the two classes. The March 15 and April 1, 1938, issues of The Watchtower presented the two-part study “His Flock” and made clear the relative places of the anointed remnant and their companions, the great crowd. Then the June 1 and June 15 issues carried study articles on “Organization,” based on Isaiah 60:17. All congregations were called on to request the Governing Body to appoint local servants, thus bringing in an improved, God-ordained, theocratic arrangement. The congregations did just so.
19 and footnote. What facts confirm that the general call to the “other sheep” has been proceeding now for over 60 years?
19 The report in the 1939 Year Book of Jehovah’s Witnesses stated: “The anointed followers of Christ Jesus now on earth are few in number, and never will their number be greater. These are designated in the Scriptures as ‘the remnant’ of the offspring of Zion, God’s organization. (Rev. 12:17) The Lord is now gathering to himself his ‘other sheep,’ who will form the ‘great multitude’. (John 10:16) Those now being gathered are companions of the remnant, working together with the remnant. From this time forward those composing the ‘other sheep’ will increase in number until the ‘great multitude’ is gathered.” The anointed remnant had been molded to care for the ingathering of the great crowd. These too must now be molded.*
20. What organizational changes have developed since 1942?
20 In January 1942, when World War II was at its height, Joseph Rutherford died and was succeeded by Nathan Knorr as president. The Society’s third president is remembered fondly for establishing theocratic schools in the congregations and the Gilead School for training missionaries. At the Society’s annual meeting in 1944, he announced that the Society’s charter was being revised so that membership would be based, not on material contributions, but on spirituality. During the next 30 years, the number of field workers increased from 156,299 to 2,179,256 worldwide. During 1971-75 further organizational changes were needed. No longer could one man serving as president give thorough oversight to the Kingdom work earth wide. The Governing Body, with a rotating chairman, was enlarged to 18 anointed members, almost half of whom have by now finished their course on earth.
21. What has qualified members of the little flock for the Kingdom?
21 The remaining members of the little flock have been molded through many decades of trials. They are of good courage, having received unmistakably ‘the witness of the spirit.’ Jesus has told them: “You are the ones that have stuck with me in my trials; and I make a covenant with you, just as my Father has made a covenant with me, for a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel.”—Romans 8:16, 17; Luke 12:32; 22:28-30.
22, 23. How are little flock and other sheep being molded?
22 As the number of the spirit-anointed remnant on earth has decreased, mature brothers of the great crowd have been given spiritual oversight of almost all the congregations worldwide. And as the last aged anointed Witnesses finish their earthly course, princely sa·rimʹ of the other sheep will have been well trained to carry out administrative duties as the chieftain class on earth.—Ezekiel 44:3; Isaiah 32:1.
23 Little flock and other sheep alike continue to be molded into vessels for honorable use. (John 10:14-16) Whether our hope rests in the “new heavens” or in “a new earth,” may we respond wholeheartedly to Jehovah’s invitation: “Exult, you people, and be joyful forever in what I am creating. For here I am creating Jerusalem a cause for joyfulness and her people a cause for exultation.” (Isaiah 65:17, 18) May we frail humans always serve humbly, being molded by “the power beyond what is normal”—God’s power of holy spirit!—2 Corinthians 4:7; John 16:13.
Let renegade Christendom, foreshadowed by ancient Israel, be warned of similar judgment from Jehovah.—1 Peter 4:17, 18.
Judge Manton, a Roman Catholic who had refused to release the Bible Students on bail, was later imprisoned himself, having been convicted of accepting bribes.
The New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures, released in 1950, uses “great crowd” as a better translation of the inspired Greek term.
In 1938 the worldwide Memorial attendance was 73,420, with 39,225 persons—53 percent of those present—partaking of the emblems. By 1998 attendance had grown to 13,896,312, with only 8,756 partaking, an average of less than 1 partaker to every 10 congregations.
Do You Recall?
◻ In submitting to his Father’s molding, how was Jesus our Exemplar?
◻ What molding took place in ancient Israel?
◻ How has “the Israel of God” been molded till now?
◻ For what purpose have the “other sheep” been molded?
[Box on page 18]
Further Molding in Christendom
An Associated Press dispatch from Athens, Greece, reported as follows on the recently appointed head of the Greek Orthodox Church: “He’s supposed to be a messenger of peace. But the leader of the Greek Orthodox Church is sounding more like a general preparing for battle.
“‘We are ready, if necessary, to shed blood and make sacrifices. We, as a church, pray for peace . . . But we bless the sacred weapons when the moment demands it,’ Archbishop Christodoulos said recently on the Assumption of the Virgin holy day, which doubles as Greece’s armed forces day.”
[Box on page 19]
“No More Additions!”
At a Gilead graduation in 1970, Frederick Franz, then vice-president of the Watch Tower Society, told the students of the possibility that they, who were all of the other sheep with earthly hopes, might baptize someone who might claim to be of the anointed remnant. Could this happen? Well, he explained that John the Baptist was of the other sheep, and he baptized Jesus and some of the apostles. Then he went on to ask whether there still was a call for gathering in more of the remnant. “No, no more additions!” he said. “That call ended way back there in 1931-35! There are no more additions. Who, then, are the few newly associated ones who are partaking of the Memorial emblems? If they are of the remnant, they are replacements! They are, not additions to the ranks of the anointed, but replacements for those who may have fallen away.”
[Picture on page 15]
How we value our treasure of service!
[Picture on page 16]
Ancient Israel became a vessel fit only for destruction